Long enamored with Iz's version of "Over The Rainbow," Pamela Polland felt inspired to record an album of pop classics, interpreted Hawaiian style, with new vocal arrangements and ukulele accompaniment.
As an initial step, in June she released "Hawaiianized," a five-track digital download (available on iTunes), featuring alluring covers of "Over The Rainbow," George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful," and Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." By January she plans to release a whole album of "Hawaiianized" songs.
"Like everyone else I've been very moved by Iz's 'Over the Rainbow,' " Pamela explains. "Iz Hawaiianized it, and I thought it would be fun to do that kind of treatment for other beloved, popular songs."
Enlisting The Doobie Brothers' John McFee as co-producer and guitarist, Pamela was also joined on the project by vocalist Sharon Celani (of the old Maui group Dancer), known for her work with Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac.
The forthcoming CD will include covers of James Taylor's "Shower the People," Christopher Cross' hit "Sailing," Elvis' classic ballad "Can't Help Falling in Love," Sting's "Every Breath You Take," and a version of Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," which was featured on the soundtrack of the "Taylor Camp" documentary.
So how does she "Hawaiianize" these songs?
"Every track utilizes ukulele and slack key guitar and most have Hawaiian steel guitar," she says. "And quite a few tracks have some Hawaiian language. On 'You Are So Beautiful' I sing an entire verse in Hawaiian, and 'Here Comes the Sun' and "Shower the People" have choruses in Hawaiian. It's a combination of the instrumentation, the language and the feeling."
A talented musician who over the years has been involved with an impressive array of artists including Linda Ronstadt, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Jackson Browne, The Byrds and Ry Cooder, Pamela became captivated by Hawaiian music after moving to Maui.
"I've always enjoyed Hawaiian music, but the real turning point for me was when I joined a hula halau and started dancing," she reports. "It took on a whole new life for me. I wasn't just singing along; I was embodying the meaning of the music."
Studying with kumu hula Aunty Gordean Bailey in Kula, Pamela began playing ukulele inspired by a vision of creating a backing group for the halau.
"I wanted to support the halau with live music," she says. "After 10 years of dancing with them, I switched gears and became the band leader of Keaolani."
Besides releasing "Hawaiianized," Pamela is also featured on the new CD collection "Wahine," which gathers such talents as Emma Veary, the Hula Honeys and Lei'ohu Ryder. She contributes two beautiful songs "Na Pohaku Kaulana" and "Ku'u Manu 'O'o," which opens with a recording of the last living 'o'o.
Having previously pursued a successful musical career in California, some of her early projects have recently attracted renewed attention. The concert archive website Wolfgang's Vault has featured her collaboration with legendary guitarist Ry Cooder in 1964, and fans have been searching out her work with the '60s group Gentle Soul, whose debut album featured backing by Paul Horn, Cooder, Van Dyke Parks and Taj Mahal.
"This is my 50th year in the music business, and it's amazing there's renewed interest in me," she reports. "Wolfgang's Vault has two live sets of Ry and I performing at the Ash Grove, and then the Gentle Soul album has been reissued three times now. I've seen it sell for as much as $300 on eBay."
In 1970, Pamela was vaulted into the national spotlight, hired as a backup singer on Joe Cocker's legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour, appearing in the resulting video and album, re-released in 2006 as a six-disc CD set. Conducted by Leon Russell, the 20-member group created one of most exciting rock shows ever recorded.
"That's been getting a lot of renewed interest too, especially with the release of the 'Union' album of Elton John and Leon Russell," she notes. "All these Mad Dogs and Englishmen fanatics have been finding me on Facebook."
As a rather pure young woman, Pamela remembers being cast into the midst of a very wild rock 'n' roll circus.
"I was a bit of an oddity," she recalls. "I was a vegetarian and meditator who didn't participate in the drugs or alcohol or sexual machinations. But it was totally an honor. They were awesome musicians, and we pumped it every single show, giving heart and soul night after night. Every town we hit, Leon's instructions were: 'Go wild!' "
The Maui premiere of "Get a Job," starring Eric Gilliom and Willie K, at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center is turning into a major not-to-be-missed event. Apart from the film, which includes cameos by a host of entertainers from Willie Nelson, Mick Fleetwood and Pat Simmons to Jake Shimabukuro, Henry Kapono and Amy Gilliom, the benefit evening includes a two-hour concert in the courtyard with the hot Latin rhythms of Dr. Nat & Rio Ritmo. Dr. Nat will head an all-star band with a number of artists in the film, including Eric Gilliom and Mick Fleetwood joining in.
"It's far more than a movie," says "Get a Job" director/writer Brian Kohne. "We have a full-blown concert, a wrap party with the public included."
And there's lots of music in the movie, with a soundtrack featuring 18 Barefoot Natives songs, along with tracks by Amy, The Throwdowns, Kristin Grove, and a new Willie K tune, "Jah is the Peaceful Way."
"Music drives the whole thing, music is integral to the narrative," says Brian.
Tickets are $17 (plus applicable fees) and an item for the Maui Food Bank, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org. Proceeds benefit the food bank and the MACC's arts and education programs.
Restaurateur Mark Ellman recently published the inspirational work "Practice Aloha." A compilation of insights into the meaning of aloha, the book inspired KAOI radio talk- show host Cindy Paulus to produce an album, "Practicing Aloha," based on the same theme, featuring a bunch of Maui musicians including George Kahumoku, Jr., Eric Gilliom and Marty Dread.
"I've interviewed all these people over the years, but I was surprised when they all agreed to help me with the CD," says Cyndi. "I think it's because they all believe in aloha. Spending 20 years on Maui, words and songs started coming to me, but I didn't believe I could do anything with them. After Mark asked me to put something in his book I bumped into Fulton Tashombe and he said he'd help arrange the songs."
With Tashombe on board steering the project, Cindy began aligning artists with different songs reflecting various genres. Thus raggaeish tunes like "Say Yes" and "All in This Together" are sung by Marty Dread; Eric Gilliom shines on more funky, soulful songs like "Harmony" and "Peace in Paradise;" while George Kahumoku, Jr. sings and plays on "Mana" and "Mahalo ke Akua," English language songs with a pronounced Hawaiian influence.
"Each artist brought their own style to the songs," Cyndi explains. "They amplified them."
Other musicians contributing include Hapa co-founder Keli'i Kaneali'i (on the title song), vocalist Jamie Lawrence, bassist Hutch Hutchinson, Island Rumours Band singer Gretchen Rhodes, chanter Clifford Na'ole, saxophonist David Choy, and Josh Tatofi (son of Kapena's Tiva Tatofi).
"I hope it helps lift people's hearts and helps them feel the spirit of aloha," Cyndi concludes. "When you get stressed out, you can listen to these songs and they bring you back to the love that's alive on Maui in the spirit of aloha."
Cindy Paulos and George Kahumoku, Jr. will join author Mark Ellman at promotional events at 2 p.m. Saturday at Borders Books Music Movies & Cafe in Kahului and at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea.